Thursday, March 3, 2011

British, Australian, and American Idioms Quiz

I love English. I most particularly enjoy idiomatic English and colloquialisms. So I was pleased as punch, over the moon, and walking on water when I stumbled across a quiz for the new Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, and I thought I would share it with you.

Where would you expect to hear the following? In American, Australian or British English?

Cambridge Idioms Dictionary1. They’ve been coining it in since they opened the shop on the corner.

2. I hear you’re a dab hand with a paintbrush.

3. He’s as daft as a brush. Don’t believe a word he says.

4. I tried to make a cupboard for my bedroom, and I made a real dog’s breakfast of it.

5. She said that her job was as easy as rolling off a log.

6. He hemmed and hawed and then agreed to come with us.

And here are the answers:

1. Coining it - British and Australian. The American version would be that they were "raking it (the money) in."

2. Dab hand - British and Australian.

3. Daft as a brush - British - What makes a brush daft? I don't know.

4. Dog's breakfast - British and Australian - From the Phrase Finder's UK Index: This is a 20th century phrase. Eric Partridge, in the 1937 edition of his A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English lists it as "a mess: low Glasgow." This is not to be confused with the the similar phrase, "dog's dinner," which, although coined around the same time, has a completely different meaning. The first example of dog's dinner that I have found in print is from The Miami News, October 1933: "And on a bus top at a 57th St. traffic halt, a youth from the sidewalk called to a young cigarette-smoking lady at the rail: "What you doing sitting there all dressed up like a dog's dinner?"

Note from Mary:  Now, the phrase, dog's dinner, may have been mentioned in The Miami News, but that is not American English. We do not say "traffic halt" or "at the rail."

5. Easy as falling off a log - American.

6. Hem and haw - American and Australian. Isn't that interesting? It imitates the sound of one clearing one's throat.

How did you do?


  1. Wow, I actually knew all the answers. I guess I have to thank a university class for that Idiomatic Language. I think that was the name of the class.

    Very interesting post!

  2. One I knew for sure was the dog's breakfast. My mother's version of it was, "That looks like a puppy dog's breakfast", so I knew it was British. My teen son wonders where I get all of these odd expressions and my mother is usually the answer.

    I used nimrod to describe my older son last week (affectionately of course). Is that one British or North American?

    Great post Mary.

  3. I admit I needed your answers! I've heard those phrases, used a few myself, but didn't know their origin.

    Mary, I love how your mind works. Please come be on my trivia team!

  4. I hear hem and haw all the time where I live. Also gee and haw, which is completely different, but still fun to say.

  5. Isn't this fun? I really do love idoms. When I was in TX, an idiom-rich state, my favorite was "I'm fixin' to go get me a Coke" which was probably a Dr.Pepper. "There's nothing between here and Canada but a chain-link fence" was another. I'm sure I use idioms from NJ, other than, "Hey, you guys," but my uniqueness is more about pronunciation. Because of my Irish ancestors, I drop the "h" in humor, humid, and Houston. I also use the positive anymore which makes my husband crazy--this from a guy who grew up on Long Island and has good idears!

  6. Irena, They have a class on idiomatic language. Oh, I would love to take that.

    Jenny, my husband uses nimrod, and he's from NY.

    Lucy, I don't know how I wrote so many books. I am all over the place. As you can tell by my topics, I completely lack discipline.

    Jenny, I think it's curious that hem and haw is Australian and American. How did that happen?

    Thanks everyone.

  7. I thought they were all British. The only one that I would change, if I used it, would be ," as easy as rolling off a log." We would say, " as easy as falling off a log."


  8. Love these Mary,
    and I want you to know I got them all right. The only thing is when the answer was both Aus & Brit I only put one down not both and just America for Hem-Haw.

    @Jennifer - had to laugh at your gee and haw comment, totally different.

    You are all over the place Mary, but I love it. Never gets boring. I enjoyed your last two posts about all that beautiful art and what could have and did happen to it, but was in a rush out the door so didn't get to comment.